MINNEAPOLIS, MN - DECEMBER 18: (L-R) Minnesota Vikings owners Zygi Wilf and Mark Wilf take a walk on the field during the pregame against the New Orleans Saints at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome on December 18, 2011 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Adam Bettcher /Getty Images)
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For as long as he has been the owner of the Minnesota Vikings, Zygmunt "Zygi" Wilf has attempted to please everybody when it comes to the subject of a new Minnesota Vikings' stadium. He has not raised the spectre of a possible move of the team, nor has he stopped trying to put a competitive product on the field. Certainly the methods of building that team can be questioned, but Wilf has not been adverse to spending in an attempt to keep the Vikings competitive.
Now, as the state of Minnesota begins its 2012 Legislative Session with no clear plan in mind for a Vikings stadium, and the team currently without a lease with the Metrodome, hindsight tells us that the mustachioed owner probably should have ditched the concept of "Minnesota nice" a long time ago in his efforts to secure a new stadium in Minnesota.
Wilf, much like Red McCombs before him, has been under the impression that the state of Minnesota would be willing to work with him in order to get a site financed for a new stadium. To this point, he has largely done everything that the state has asked him to do, from finding a local partner to increasing the team's contribution to a potential project and whatever other edicts have come down from St. Paul. However, in his attempts to not alienate and anger the state of Minnesota and Vikings fans over the course of the past few seasons, Zygi has been backed into a corner.
Governor Mark Dayton received nine proposals for a new Minnesota Vikings' stadium back on February 12, his deadline for such proposals to be submitted. Last week, he held a press conference and basically said that none of the proposals were sufficient, but that his preferred site was on Linden Avenue, near the site of St. Mary's Basilica. That happened on Wednesday, January 18. Just five days later, on January 23, Dayton did an about-face, declaring that the "only workable site" at this point in time is the site that the Metrodome currently sits on.
The current Metrodome site is the least favored location of the Vikings for numerous reasons. It presents no possibility for any real development, the tailgating and fan experience around such a stadium would be limited because of the lack of available space. In addition, the Vikings would lose nearly $70 million over the course of the three years that the new stadium would be built, a combination of revenue lost from playing in a stadium that seats more than 10,000 fewer people than their current venue (something that may ensure that not all of their season ticket holders actually have, you know, tickets) as well as improvements that would have to be made to TCF Bank Stadium in order for it to meet NFL standards.
But the Minnesota legislature doesn't seem to care too much about that, and the reason for that is simple. Because of Zygi's cordial nature and seeming naivete that the state's leaders would attempt to get something done in good faith, he hasn't given them a reason to care. Because they haven't been given a reason to care, the Vikings find themselves in a precarious situation.
If Wilf wants to play the "moving" card at this point in the game, he needs to inform the National Football League of the team's intention to move no later than February 15, which is three weeks away. Unfortunately, the Vikings have made it clear this entire time that they're not actively engaged with other markets to potentially move the team to (unless that's something they're keeping hidden). So, as the team has continued to be deferential to the state of Minnesota and not exercised the one piece of obvious leverage that they have, threats of relocation at this point are empty at best.
Worse still for the team, as Mike Florio from Pro Football Talk points out, if the Vikings don't express an intention to move by February 15, they have to play their home games somewhere in 2012, and the only venue that will fit the bill is the place that they're trying to get out of. . .the Metrodome. The conventional wisdom has long been that the team would sign a one-year lease with the Minneapolis Sports Facilities Commission to play in the Metrodome while the whole situation was being worked out. However, at this point, there's really nothing stopping the MSFC from saying, "You know, we don't want to do a one-year lease. Here's a virtually unbreakable five-year lease for you to sign, or you don't get to use our facility."
Not being savvy in all of the legal ramifications of such a thing, I'm not sure what the Vikings' options would be at that point, but on the surface, it would appear that they would have no choice but to sign it and resign themselves to another stretch in the NFL's worst stadium, generating the lowest revenue in the National Football League, and making it harder for them to remain competitive.
Now, I find it hard to believe that there have been no talks going on with other locales regarding a possible Vikings' relocation. After all, Zygi Wilf is a businessman, and I'm guessing he's smart enough to keep his options open. Regardless of the situation from here on out, if Wilf wants to get anything accomplished, he needs to start playing hardball. Start flying in folks from Los Angeles for very public meetings and dinners, and hold impromptu press conferences outside of the restaurants saying that you're enthusiastic about the progress that's being made. Take a trip out to the West Coast to take a look at the site for the potential Los Angeles stadium, and express that it's the kind of facility the team and the National Football League deserve.
For Zygi Wilf, the time has come to stop playing footsie with the state of Minnesota. The Minnesota Vikings need a facility if they're going to remain competitive in the National Football League, and if he's going to get Minnesota to show just how serious he is about keeping this team around, Zygi Wilf needs to show that he's equally serious about moving them away. That might not be what fans of the Minnesota Vikings want to hear, but Wilf has been saying what the fans want to hear ever since he bought the team.
This is where it has gotten him.